For one night Drag 101 taught the fundamentals of being a queen
Readings were given and hands were raised, but this was not your average 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. lecture. As part of the Theatre Department’s courses on the Theatrical Event and Theories of Performance, the evening of March 4 offered students an evening of drag queens on the main stage discussing gender, fashion, and queer identities.
Hosted by University of Ottawa theatre professor Dr. Peter Kuling in full drag as Ophelia, local drag queens Adrianna Exposee, Harley Queene, Bebe Brunjes, and Vera performed in a Rupaul’s Drag Race-inspired ensemble show. Each queen showcased their charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent through interviews, lip syncs, runway critiques, and a race for the crown as they “Lip-synced for their Alumni.”
Cheered on by U of O theatre students, alumni, and faculty from the theatre department, the evening explored drag as performance art, and broke down different parameters of what it means to be a drag artist within Ottawa’s LGBTQ+ community.
“I believe in every choice we make, we are always performing,” said Kuling, describing why drag gets featured in his classes. “What’s so fascinating and fun about drag for me is that it acknowledges it’s equally fake and real at the same time. Doing a lot to accentuate our bodies in certain ways, drag plays with and criticizes many different aspects of gender, identity, and how we perform everyday.”
Crowned winner of the evening, U of O student Harley Queene shared her experience emerging on the drag scene as a “faux” or “hyper” queen: someone that identifies as a woman and performs in drag.
“I think that being a faux queen is really creating a completely distinguished character from who you are. It’s about finding what I find creative myself and turning it into a person,” she said.
Citing performers such as Sharon Needles, Detox, and Kimmee Lee Diamond as drag idols, she reflected on how far drag has come as an art form since getting pushed to the mainstream.
“I like that it’s a lot more than female impersonation now,” Queene said. “I think that if you have your heart committed to a song or a character it’s going to look good. You don’t need to do wig reveals or splits to get people going, you just need to have that energy and spark in you.”
As the queens gave it their all, sashayed, and performed one final energetic lip synch for their alumni, there was a feeling of community and acceptance as the crowd cheered and interacted with the performers.
Kuling, as Ophelia, explained the power behind drag.
“It’s really important to remember that both theatre and drag queens have been equally powerful in changing our socio-political world. Drag queens, from the days of Stonewall in NYC to the Toronto Bathhouse Raids, have stood up and reminded us that as progressive as the world appears, we have to keep fighting to be who we are, regardless of whatever bodies and identities we inhabit.”
“If after tonight’s show one person felt slightly more okay being themselves, then we drag queens have done our werk. That’s the spirit I bring every week to my lectures teaching students how theatre has impacted society and can still change our world.”
The event was made possible by Ophelia (Dr. Peter Kuling), Bebe Brunjes, Adrianna Exposée, Harley Queene, Vera, Violet Velour (Eliza Anthony), Stirling (Jonas MacLean), Patrice Tremblay, Josh Carroll, Tina Goralski, Trevor Teo, and Kellie MacDonald.